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One of the few complaints about the Oculus Quest right now, three months after its release, is that there aren’t enough RPG-like experiences. Players are yearning and clamoring for a native game akin to Skyrim VR or Fallout 4 VR, complete with character progression, equipment, inventories, and all that other good stuff that comes with RPGs.
Well, Apex Construct is not that game. However, it is the most RPG-like experience on the Oculus Quest so far, and it’s not that bad if you can get over some glaring flaws. It’s the kind of game you either love or hate, and while I personally found myself disappointed by it, I can see why many love it.
Disclaimer: My copy of Apex Construct was provided by Fast Travel Games. However, my opinions in this review are solely my own and have not been influenced by Fast Travel Games in any way.
Apex Construct is one of the only games on the Oculus Quest (so far) with a bow-and-arrow mechanic, and it’s genuinely awesome the first time you get to fire one off. The bow also has a built-in shield that you can activate by pressing the trigger, which comes in handy when you’re facing robots that move as fast as lightning and shoot to kill. Over the course of the game, you unlock more arrow types with different effects, and these have limited ammo before needing to recharge whereas the base arrow is unlimited.
One of my favorite design decisions in Apex Construct is the in-game inventory. Pressing the inventory button on your bow hand brings the interface to life, and you can pick up in-world items and place them in your inventory so you don’t have to physically carry them around everywhere. The inventory has space for six items, and that’s more than enough for carrying around healing drinks, security keycards, and miscellaneous bits and bobs that you find throughout each level.
The general idea of Apex Construct is this: you’re alone in the world, guided by a mysterious AI called Fathr, and the two of you are trying to overcome a malicious AI entity called Mothr. You operate out of a safehouse that acts as a kind of home base, and you go off on mission levels from the mission selector in the safehouse. During missions, Fathr guides you with golden waypoints to show that you’re on the right track, as well as objective reminders to help you when you don’t quite remember what to do next.
I like this approach because you can take breaks between missions, and you can revisit missions if you feel compelled to do a 100% completion. There are collectible data bits that you can acquire by visiting terminals scattered around each level, and these data bits provide insight into backstory and what happened to everyone. It really helps to flesh out the world, furthering the mystery of why you’re the only human left in the mangled universe of Apex Construct. Some terminals can’t be accessed until you complete later missions, which adds a bit of optional replayability as you go back and try to ace every level (the mission selector tells you how many secrets are still to be discovered in each mission).
Separate from the main storyline is the Cygnia Cup, a kind of competitive archery challenge where you complete six phases, each phase being a set pattern of targets that provide +10, +50, or +100 points depending on how well you strike them. Each phase is successively harder, with targets that start moving and some even spawning robots that shoot at you, and you’re under time pressure because each phase has a time limit. If you complete a phase with time remaining, you get bonus points. Basically, you’re trying to accrue as many points as you can over all six phases, and the results are added to the Apex Construct global leaderboard. It’s a fun little minigame that gives reason to come back to this game after you’ve finished the main story, assuming you enjoy the bow-and-arrow mechanic.
Very minor spoilers about the story:
The most disappointing thing about Apex Construct is that the awesome worldbuilding and the intriguing mysteries never lead anywhere. None of the important plot points are ever explained, and the final battle is the most anticlimactic ending I’ve ever witnessed in a story-driven video game. In fact, the final boss is the same exact boss you fight in one of the middle missions, and to me, that points to a likelihood that the developers ran out of budget and threw in a hasty end to wrap things up.
Another huge strike against Apex Construct is the lack of variety in enemies and combat, leading to an extremely repetitive feel over the course of the game. There are only three total enemies: the trigger-happy spider drones, the kamikaze dog drones, and the teleporting spider drones. And while you do unlock different arrow types, the combat doesn’t change much: you just spam arrows while ducking out of the paths of photon bullets. At the very least, the enemies could have different hitboxes so that you cause critical damage in some spots and reduced damage in other spots, emphasizing marksmanship over arrow spam. But, alas.
Honestly, Apex Construct is awesome for the first hour or so, then quickly loses much of its luster—because it’s the same thing over and over and over again for a dozen missions. Even the puzzles, which take up most of the game time, are the same thing over and over and over again: lots of “find the clipboard with a four-digit code, memorize it, and input the code at the right terminal” and not much else. Even the electric and explosive arrows, which provided prime opportunities for different puzzle types, are rarely used after they’re first introduced. There are no real new developments past the first hour, and in a lot of ways, once you’ve seen the first hour you’ve seen the whole game.
I’m also disappointed in the upgrade system, which lacked depth. Here’s how it works: you collect RPs by killing enemies and reaching special points of interest, then when you return to the safehouse, you can spend RPs to increase bow damage, reduce arrow cooldowns, or increased shield durability. It’s far too linear—each upgrade has levels 1 to 5 with increasing RP costs—and not enough variability. I’m also pissed at the “Unbanked RPs” system, which causes you to lose any RPs gained during a mission if you die; Unbanked RPs turn into Banked RPs once you return to the safehouse. I don’t really see the point in having this mechanic, since you’re already discouraged from dying without it.
Finally, the quality of voice acting by Fathr and Mothr was… unimpressive, at best. The performances given by both at the end of the game were disappointing and even a little cringey. Perhaps my distaste was amplified by the anticlimactic story. Who knows?
Overall, Apex Construct takes about 6-7 hours to complete if you don’t care about the collectible secrets. Honestly, I grew disinterested around the 1-hour mark, and actively yearned for the game to finish around the 3-hour mark. Toward the end, I found myself sighing when another mission showed up on the mission selector.
I did not enjoy this game and find it hard to recommend. However, seeing as it’s one of the only bow-and-arrow games on the Oculus Quest so far, and seeing as how the Cygnia Cup provides some replayability, I can see why some people like it. If you want it, I’d seriously wait for a sale.